WASHINGTON – Security is going to be the overriding theme of the State of the Union address and President Bush spent last week showcasing it, using Friday to focus on the country's borders, where he wants to plug holes with additional dollars.
The president's fiscal year 2003 budget request will seek $10.7 billion for border security, an increase of $2.1 billion over this year. The money is part of a $38-billion homeland security package that Bush announced Thursday, $18 billion more than was included in this year's hotly contested defense budget.
"The budget I asked for to the United States Congress has got the most significant increase in military spending in the last 20 years. The price of victory is well worth it," Bush told Coast Guard officers in Portland, Maine Friday.
Bush said the country is fighting a two-front war that involves rooting out terrorists both overseas and within our borders. He promised a seamless air, land and sea border that weeds out terrorist threats without clogging the free flow of goods and people.
Before his speech, the president toured the Coast Guard cutter Tahoma, which rushed to patrol New York's harbor after the Sept. 11 attacks, and stayed for 40 days. The Tahoma, based at New Bedford, Mass., is at sea roughly 185 days a year, interdicting drug traffic and illegal migrants from the North Atlantic to the Caribbean. It was commissioned in April 1988 and has a crew of 100 officers and enlisted personnel.
Guarding the nation's 361 ports used to be a small fraction of the Coast Guard's duties, which focused on trying to stop drug traffickers and illegal immigration along the country's 95,000 miles of coastline.
Now, port patrols take up more than 60 percent of the Coast Guard's budget. Bush wants to boost that budget by $282 million, increasing the Coast Guard budget to $2.9 billion next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
"We must make sure that our Coast Guard has got a modern fleet of vessels. We must make sure that port security is as strong as possible. We must make sure there's additional operating money available for the extended missions of the Coast Guard, and we must make sure those who wear our uniforms are well paid," he said.
The increase is the smallest part of the $2.1 billion increase in spending on border security overall.
Nearly 90 percent of the new border security spending will go to the Coast Guard and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Bush will ask for $1.2 billion more for the INS to hire more border patrols, agents and inspectors for the Canadian border, where terrorists have tried to sneak in before and where tourists and truckers waited for hours at some crossings because of tighter security after the Sept. 11 attacks.
Canada has already offered its help in securing the border. In December, a border security agreement was signed between homeland security director Tom Ridge and Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley.
Officials say border patrols will attempt to build a "smart border," which keeps out terrorists, drugs and diseases and doesn't hold up trade and tourism. U.S. officials wanted more than tighter borders with Canada; they also wanted that country to tighten up its own immigration policies. But Canada prides itself in being a place of refuge for people fleeing repressive governments and officials said that would not change.
Fox News' Wendell Goler and the Associated Press contributed to this report.